Britain’s move to not extend to India a pilot to provide easier, cheaper and longer visas, and to not include Indians in the revised list of countries for easier student visas is likely to harden postures in New Delhi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not sign the memorandum of understanding on the return of illegal Indians in the UK during his visit in April in a last-minute decision linked to London refusing to provide Indians relaxed visa norms already available to the Chinese. Friday’s changes including China – and not India – in the list of non-EU students who will be allowed to provide “reduced level of documentation” for student visas has added to ennui that was partly responsible for Modi not signing the MoU.
Keeping India out of the revised list of countries for student visas sparked criticism from various Indian quarters in London, including from Karan Bilimoria, a member of the House of Lords, who has been campaigning for easier norms for Indian students.
Calling it “insulting”, Bilimoria said: “To think that this is announced whilst this is the same Britain that is talking about doing a post-Brexit free trade deal with India, and this is the way they treat India. An FTA with India with this approach is pie-in-the-sky. This latest insult to India is on top of reduction made a couple of years ago for Chinese business visitors and tourists, who acquire two-year multiple entry visas at a reduced price of £85; for Indians, the price is still £388.”
Brexit-bound Britain’s eagerness to forge an FTA with India faces the ‘wall’ of India seeking easier visa norms, described as Mode 4 in trade talks, referring to the free movement of people. It was Britain’s objection to the Mode 4 part of the EU-India trade talks that had stalled it for years. Sources in Brussels expect speedier movement in the talks after Britain leaves the EU.
Friday’s non-inclusion of India in the list of countries for “streamlined” student visa process is part of the visa-related mosaic that has emerged on the top of the bilateral relationship, with London seeking return of illegal Indians and New Delhi pushing for easier visa norms.
The draft of the MoU on illegal migration was initialled during the January visit of minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju, but uncertainty in New Delhi on the duration in which the identity of suspected illegal Indians would need to be confirmed – 15 days or 70 days – was another reason it was not signed during Modi’s visit.
There is already uneasiness over the anomaly of New Delhimaking it considerably easier and cheaper for British nationals seeking visas to India, while the measures are not reciprocated by London for Indians nationals seeking UK visas.